(AP) -- More than 2.5 million South Koreans are suffering from smart phone addiction, according to the government.
The problem has become so serious specialist clinics have been set up to treat those suffering the negative effects of addiction.
Teenagers in South Korea love their smart phones; but is their relationship with this pocket-sized technology always healthy?
South Korea is one of the most digital countries on the planet with its super-fast broadband network. Little wonder so many Koreans - from primary school pupils to the elderly rely on their smart phones to get by.
Smart phone aren't just for making calls - they handle morning alarms, messaging with friends, playing games, taking pictures, listening to music, reading news, searching for directions, looking at bus timetables and much more.
But good things come with risks.
Smart phones are threatening the young generation's health with "Smartphone Addiction Syndrome."
In South Korea, the government estimates 2.55 million are addicted to their smartphones in its first survey on smart phone addiction released earlier this year.
That represents nearly 10 per cent of South Korean smart phone users, which surpassed 30 million as of August, or 60 percent of its population.
Those most at risk of smart phone addiction are adolescents, according to the survey.
"Teenagers' smart phone addiction rate appears to be 11.4 percent. This means that due to overuse of smart phones, teenagers are showing withdrawal symptoms, tolerance effect and obstacles in daily life," says the Media Addiction Prevention Department's Digital Culture Division principal manager Aum Na-rae at the National Information Society Agency's Korea Internet Addiction Centre. "Among the 11.4 percent, 2.2 percent appears to be in the high-risk group which needs specialized treatment."
She adds: "Looking at the above data, it is reported that smart phone addiction among teenagers is in a very serious situation."
Smart phones - like the Apple iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy SIII - have become the must-have consumer tech devices and unlike other consumer technology devices (such as games consoles or netbooks) they accompany their owners everywhere... even to the bathroom.
"I often bring my smart phone to the bathroom as I feel bored without it," says 14-year-old middle school student Ha Soo-hyeon. "I use it just before going to bed, and also use it when I wake up in the morning. I think I got into a habit of using it that way."
Rather than just focusing on treatment, the government is running addiction prevention programmers in partnership with one of the largest telecom companies in South Korea, Korea Telecom (KT).
Here at the Gyeonggi Province's elementary and middle school, smart phone-addiction-prevention learning sessions are taking place. The prevention staff show pupils television programs about addiction and hand out self-diagnosis questionnaires to find 'at risk' students.
"We try to arouse students' attention so that they can realize themselves that they can also be addicted to the smartphones. Also, through the self-diagnosis, we try to let them figure out what stages they are on," says a KT IT Supporter Chung Hea-shin. "Even though smart phones have negative effects, we cannot just simply avoid using them, so we try to provide several rules and let students follow them well to minimize the negative effect and maximize the positive effect."
Starting next year, extending its current prevention program, South Korean children from the age of three will be taught to protect them from overusing digital gadgets and Internet.
Nearly 90 percent of South Korean children between three to five years old will learn at kindergarten how to control their exposure to digital devices and the danger of staying online for long periods, says An Jeong-eun, an education ministry official.
In addition, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security has moved to revise laws, so teaching the dangers of Internet addiction becomes mandatory from pre-school institutions to high schools.
In medical terms, the Department of Psychiatry's head of the Addiction Centre, Choi Jung-seok at the Seoul National University's Boramae Medical Centre warned that adolescents' smart phone addiction can cause critical changed in brain function development.
"If adolescents get addicted to smart phones and if they are too much absorbed in using them, there will be changes in brain function," says Choi Jung-seok. "It will affect the frontal lobe function and cause negative effect on judgment making, emotional controlling and impulse controlling."
Choi also says that smart phone addicted teenagers can feel nervous, anxious or restless without their phones which can cause negative effect on their studying and learning.
"If it becomes worse, they can act impulsively as they have difficult time controlling their emotions, can easily get irritated, become sensitive and can even show aggressive acts," says Choi.
In addition, overuse of smart phones may also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as 'turtle neck syndrome' and a pain or numbness in fingers or wrists.
"When you are studying or looking at the smart phone’s small screen, you unconsciously stretch out your neck and hunch your shoulders. Because you stay in a position, which causes pain on your neck and shoulder, for a long time, you get exposed to the smart phone syndrome," says the Madi Shoulder Hospital's Department of Orthopedic Surgery Director Lee Chang-hyun. "Smartphone syndrome is one of the RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) which includes turtle neck syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome and deltoid muscle pain."
Chang advised to pay attention to the body's posture when using smart phones for a long time to avoid physical injuries.
"If you unavoidably have to use the smart phone for a long time, resting and stretching time to time are musts," says Chang. "You should move your neck in various directions, rotate your shoulder, and fold your hands and put them behind your head ad bend so that you can relieve fatigue with stretching."
South Korea has always been a trailblazer, adopting the latest technology. Smartphone addiction in this tech-savvy Asian country can be seen as a bell-weather for the rest of the world, particularly as smart phone use increases in the West.